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Trouble in Paradise?

Tropical spots can harbor certain health risks

SUNDAY, Dec. 28, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Tropical locales soothe the soul. But they also can be a welcoming environment for dangerous viruses and bacteria.

So if you're planning to spend time in a sun-drenched paradise, here's some advice to make your stay more carefree -- and safe.

Among the most prevalent purveyors of tropical infections are mosquitoes. Depending on what part of the world you're in, the pesky insects can carry the threat of potentially deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, Dengue fever and West Nile virus.

In many cases, a bite from a mosquito carrying, say, West Nile virus may go entirely unnoticed or cause only mild symptoms. But for some people, particularly the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, bites can cause serious illness and even death.

That's why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommend protecting yourself against mosquitoes in tropical regions by using insect repellants containing the chemical DEET and wearing clothing to shield your skin.

Illness-causing parasites can also thrive in tropical regions, and a particular infection, called schistosomiasis, can be found lurking in fresh water in such popular parts of the Caribbean as Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and Martinique, the CDC says. For that reason, swimming in fresh water is discouraged. The agency advises opting instead for well-chlorinated swimming pools in such areas.

Then there's your standard traveler's diarrhea, which can be particularly common in tropical areas where the warmth allows parasites to flourish in foods, fresh fruits and water. When it comes to eating foods such as meat or fresh produce in many tropical regions, a good rule of thumb is "boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it," the CDC says.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Travelers' Health section for extensive information on specific disease risks in tropical regions around the globe.

SOURCES: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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